The return of Explosion W set the Longines Global Champions Tour on fire today with a formidable win for Ben Maher and the superstar gelding in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Valkenswaard Presented by Nichiho.
Maher and Explosion W, LGCT 2018 and 2019 Championship victors, threw down the gauntlet to the world’s best with their emphatic triumph in The Netherlands. Ben was almost lost for words as he described the "incredible" talent of Explosion W and saluted the exceptional grass surface at Tops International Arena.
The victory means Ben Maher is the latest rider to cement his place in the coveted LGCT Super Grand Prix at the GC Prague Playoffs in November. The British champion smiled and said: "It feels amazing, he just gives me so much confidence, everytime I ride him he makes me feel like I can do anything. The grass arena rode incredible, to jump on the grass today after the amount of rain we had last night the team must have been working through the night. For sure it is one of if not the best grass arena in the world.
Maher then went on to said: "It is great to get our name on the board for Prague and hopefully this is the start to a great summer."
Home glory was agonisingly close but it was a Dutch second and third on the podium as Maikel van der Vleuten with Beauville Z and Frank Schuttert on Lyonel D were the only other double clears of the LGCT Grand Prix of Valkenswaard Presented by Nichiho.
Peder Fredricson holds onto the overall Championship lead heading into his home event in Stockholm on 124 points. While Dutchman Harrie Smolders has jumped up the order into second place on 81.5 points with Pieter Devos hot on his heels just half a point behind on 81.
It was to be one of the most entertaining jump-offs of the turbo-charged season so far, featuring five of the biggest names in the sport. It was the best of the best as 33 world-class combinations took center stage at this pivotal leg in the championship series. The atmosphere was tense and the challenge was immense.
Another genius, deceptive course by international designer Uliano Vezzani required perfect and precise performances from the stellar horse and rider combinations with no room for error.
There was drama in the first round when top names like Edwina Tops-Alexander, Olivier Philippaerts, Pieter Devos, Daniel Deusser and Laura Kraut were all caught out by the delicate fences landing just one fence away from a place in the star studded jump-off. There was heartache when Ellen Whitaker took a tumble at the last fence on Arena UK Winston after a great round up until that point. While young talent Jodie Hall McAteer and LGCT Grand Prix of Doha winner Niels Bruynseeels both retired to save their horses for another day.
First to go in the jump-off Maikel van der Vleuten wanted to please on home soil with Beauville Z. They were fast from the off getting away with a super quick turn to the Tulip upright. Then pulled off an exceptional clear in 46.06s to put the pressure on the rest of the field.
With patriotic passion running high Frank Schuttert, intense concentration etched on his face, set off on Lyonel D. With a massive effort and a great angle to the wide oxer mid way through he was faster at the split time. A brave gallop to the last saw them soaring over the final Longines upright going clear, but a fraction slower in 46.24.
Next up in the stellar jump off field was Harrie Smolders and Dolinn N.O.P and they were fast to the first and took an impressively sharp angle to the penultimate fence. This proved too risky as it fell and added 4 faults to their blistering time of 45.67 seconds.
Tension mounted as the phenomenal combination of Ben Maher and Explosion W entered the Top International Arena looking to claim their 8th LGCT Grand Prix title. The exceptional characteristics of Explosion W were back in the spotlight as the intelligent, powerful gelding delivered a flawless and seemingly effortless clear round shaving over 2 seconds off the time to beat.
As the LGCT Grand Prix of Valkenswaard Presented by Nichiho climaxed, it was a tantalising challenge for one of the fastest combinations - Olympic Champion Eric Lamaze and 18-year-old Fine Lady. They put the pedal to the medal from before the starting gate, but lost out 8 faults settling for 5th place and handing the win to Maher and the electrifying Explosion W.
The Longines Global Champions Tour championship race moves to Stockholm for the 5th leg of the season.
My vision is clear. Only the best for the best.